“Terry Schiavo and the Death of Conscience”
By: Pastor Chris Arch
Certainly it is only a matter of days, if not hours, before Terry Schiavo, the severely disabled Floridian, will succumb to imposed starvation. As I write this article (3-31-05) the US Supreme Court has declared it will not hear the Schiavo case, thus dashing the last hopes of the Schindler family, as well as millions of Americans intent of seeing the value and dignity of life preserved in this nation.
Just a week ago, while watching one of an endless number of news reports I’ve witnessed surrounding this case, an eager reporter earnestly stated after a court ruled against re-inserting Terry Schiavo’s feeding tube: “There you have it, both the doctors and lawyers have spoken.” What that young reporter was saying shines critical light upon the greater cultural debate the Schiavo case is an essential part of. In his mind, apparently only the legal and medical professions are qualified to give an opinion and insight into the condition of those with disabilities or at another level defining what criteria constitutes life. I am sorry, but for the last two thousand years Western society and culture has also been influenced by Biblical ethics and morality. The clergy in particular, and the Christian community in general has a great deal to contribute to the national debate surrounding Schiavo’s case.
One of the functions of the Church (universal and not just local) is to be a prophetic voice in its community. God is terribly concerned about social and ethical injustice, hence much of the ministry of the Old Testament prophets. Within Israelite society the strongest power structure with which the prophets had to deal was the monarchy (government). “The prophets were often pitted against society not so much because they were societal reformers, but because they were theological reformers whose basic motivation was generated within their commitment to the fundamental laws of God.” (1) Is this not what motivates many Christians surrounding the Schiavo case? Is this not what motivates many of us in attempting to designate dignity to others with similar disabilities or even those yet born? “The prophets (OT) arose to the defense of the poor and oppressed as a consequence of the call from a God whose nature demanded justice. The prophets bore no hatred of their society, rather, they wanted to see the social decay reversed and devotion to God restored.” (2)
Micah 6:8 declares the “Golden Rule of the Old Testament”, “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (NASB) What does this passage contribute to our society’s debate? If nothing more, it clearly states that there is a transcendent God to whom we are accountable. One of the ways in which we are clearly accountable is in how we treat our fellow man with dignity and respect, recognizing God is in fact the Author of his or her life.
The mission statement of the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada can offer us a sound path of insight through the ethical quagmire our nation now treads: “It becomes every man who purposes to give himself to the care of others, seriously to consider the four following things: First, that he must one day give an account to the Supreme Judge of the lives entrusted to his care. Second, that all of his skill is a gift from God and should be exercised for His glory and to the good of mankind. Third, let him reflect that he has undertaken the care of no mean creature…but of inestimable value for whom the Son of God died to ennoble it with His divine dignity. Finally, knowing that he is also a mortal man, the doctor should be diligent and tender in relieving the suffering of his patients, inasmuch as he himself must one day be a like sufferer.” (3)
It is incumbent upon Christians to speak out in matters of ethics and morality in society and culture. If we don’t, it will not only be the death of Terry Schiavo, it will be the death of conscience itself.
Notes & Bibliography:
Bullock, C. Hassel. An Introduction to Old Testament Prophets, (Moody Press, Chicago, 1986). (p.25)
Patrick, John. Hippocrates and Medicine in the Third Millennium, (www.johnpatrick.ca/papers/jp_hippoc.htm). (p.3)